This article aims to analyze the changes in freight transport on Thai Railways during World War II. This was largely influenced by the introduction of Japanese military transport shortly after the war began diverting freight transport away from Thai Railways. While the reduction of transport volume on the East Bank line (the Northern, the Northeastern, and the Eastern lines) was remarkable, the rate of decrease on the West Bank line, or the Southern line along the Malay Peninsula, was relatively low. The large gap between two lines that pre-existed the war reduced steadily. The most important role of Thai Railways in pre-war period was the transport of freight (primarily rice, pigs, and wood) from the inland regions in the North and Northeast to the entrepôt at Bangkok. This was greatly affected by the reduction in transport capacity after the outbreak of the war resulting in a further decrease of civil freight transport by Thai Railways.
At the same time, transport capacity on the Southern line was less than that on the East Bank line. As such, necessities such as rice and salt continued to be transported on the Southern line. As alternative methods of transport, particularly water transport, were halted due to the war, the importance and value of the Southern line continued to increase. Furthermore, this helped to support its use in transporting civil freight.
Before the war, the focus of Thai Railways had been on transporting freight from the inland regions to Bangkok via the East Bank line. However, during the war, the importance of this line was reduced by the introduction of Japanese military transport. Instead, the focus of Thai railways became the West Bank line in an effort to address the shortage of necessities on the Malay Peninsula. As a result, the West Bank line reached its peak during the war as it was not only central to Thai Railways transport routes but also those of the Japanese military.
This article aims to analyze how Thai railways responded to the various problems in the era of “development.” This era began during the Sarit regime, at which time the first high-standard road, the Friendship Highway, was opened. Sarit regarded this road as a symbol of “development,” and adopted a marked road-oriented policy, while attitude toward railways became correspondingly cold. Under his policy of “beautification,” he tried to abolish railway lines in inner Bangkok. The construction of new lines, suspended because of the shortage of budget, was cancelled with a few exceptions. The loss of customers on existing routes was a further serious problem for the railways as road transport became more competitive with the progress of road development. Rail traffic on the Northeastern Line decreased rapidly after the opening of the Friendship Highway, but the railways responded by taking various measures such as increasing the speed and frequency of services, and reducing of tariffs. As a result, the transport volume of both passenger and freight increased during the era, even though the competition with road transport became more severe. Railways faced various problems in the era of “development.” The largest factor that enabled railways to overcome them was their accurate response, recognizing their predicament and changing the offensive strategy of expanding new networks into the defensive one of maintaining existing networks.